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by Tumbleweed Smith

Sweet Dreams Winery is difficult to find. Itís sorta like LuckenbachÖif you canít find, youíre not supposed to be there. It is extremely rural, so rural in fact that the GPS coordinates are on brochures. The winery is near the Elmwood Gardens wedding facility north east of Palestine and Montalba, south of Frankston, west of Neches.

"Itís not your typical winery," says owner Mike Pell. "Itís a niche winery. Our wines are sweet and more potent than other wines."

The name came about naturally because of Mikeís bad knee, which made him toss and turn during the night. "I was making wine at home," says Mike. "We ended up in the winery business because all my friends were coming by and getting the wine from us in coke bottles. We needed a name for our business and my wife came up with it. I usually take a big glass of my blackberry grape wine at night, put ice cubes in it and drink it while I watch TV. My wife says when I do that, I lay down and I donít twitch or roll over and she gets to have sweet dreams."

His wines are made from East Texas fruits and berries, all manufactured and bottled by hand on the premises. He gets his fruits from a dozen or so farmers in a seven county area. All his wines have unique names: Blue Moon (blueberry), Elmwood Blush (mixed Muscatine), Bumble Bee Kiss (honey raspberry), Texas Moonlight (Muscatine scuppernong), Midnight in Texas (blackberry, blueberry, wild grape) and Summer Daze (sangria), just to mention a few. Wine tastings take place every Saturday from 11 AM to 8 PM.

Mike is a Battalion Fire Chief in the Palestine fire department and learned to make wine through trial and error. "We already had the property and it just seemed like a sensible thing to do. Both of us, when we opened it four years ago, were about five years away from retirement and we decided to give it a go. If itís making money weíll keep it going. If it isnít weíll shut it down and have one heck of a party place and all the wine we can drink for the rest of our lives."

It looks like theyíll keep it open. The winery has won sixteen awards so far, gold medals among them, in wine competitions as far away as Florida. I bought a wine called "Sweet Heat" made from jalapenos. We marinated steaks in it and used some to spice up a pot of pinto beans. Mike says itís a cooking wine, but some people drink it in a wine glass. "You can put just a tablespoon of it in a cole slaw dressing to add flavor and spice."

A pavilion offers visitors a view of the nearby woods, once the site of moonshine still. Signs are on the wall. One reads: if youíre drinking to forget, pay up front. Weddings, parties and school reunions have taken place at Sweet Dreams. "People like it because itís in the country and itís quiet," says Mike. "You wouldnít believe the people we get from Dallas and Houston. They get a wine slushy we call wine-a-rita and just sit and relax. We have a lot of fun out here."

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